Art collectors Henry Gomez and Serena Adsit offer Gallery & Studio a glimpse at their new home and tells us how their passion for collecting art has evolved into something that’s literally more than just skin deep
How did you get started in art collecting?
Henry Gomez (HG): We love art for what it is. For me, I started collecting art over 15 years ago and it became like a disease. Our earliest works (collected) were by graffiti artist Jose Parla because we like his raw style. We started with one, but as we got to know the artist personally, that relationship grew, and we wanted to support the artist by collecting his work. One thing led to another and right now, we buy art at the art fairs we’ve been to, and even online.
Having developed such a close relationships with an artist like Jose Parla, whom you collect, how does it feel when you’ve got a work that’s specially created for you?
Serena Adsit (SA): Jose Parla actually did a tattoo for Henry. So that’s how close it actually feels, to have his art on your body instead of just in your home.
HG: (Pointing to tattoo on arm) This is actually the name of our older son Rui. I had casually shared with Jose that I was thinking of getting a new tattoo, and being a fan of his calligraphy, I asked if he could do something for me. As his friend and one of his biggest collectors, he said that he’d try. I didn’t want to push him, but after six months, he sent me an email saying that he’s sorry, but hadn’t forgotten about it. He’s very busy after being commissioned to do work on the new World Trade Centre in New York, but he sent me a few variations.
SA: He had taken so long to develop the design, even asking for measurements of Henry’s arm; which shows the characteristics of a true artists—the meticulousness and attention to detail.
HG: After six to seven months, he was finally satisfied with the design. And being so particular, he made sure that I picked the right tattoo artist to do the piece for me. I couldn’t just pick anyone because I’ve now become a walking billboard for him. But there really is a special bond with this as it was a lot for Jose to do this. I may not be sure how much it meant to him, but it meant a lot to me, especially since it’s my son’s name. Currently, work in progress: Jose is working on something for Serena.
SA: At the end of the day, it’s more than just a buyer-seller relationship because we’d really want to know them as well. Whenever they’re in town, we’d invite the artists to hang out with us.
What are some other favourites you have in your collection?
SA: Honestly, every piece of art is inspiring once you find out the story behind it. In this house, I’m drawn to the Miaz Brother’s piece. I think using spray paint to create a portrait is beautiful yet simple at the same time, yet so hard to create.
HG: Every piece is a favourite. It’s just such a sad thing that there’s no place we could find that we could have everything put on display. So, the pieces are all in storage. For example, some of the pieces here might have been bought for years, but I’ve only seen them three months ago, when we just moved to this new place. Other than that, the only glimpse of my collection would be when it’s shipped to Singapore, and opened up for my inspection in the office and for a quick photo. After that, it’s packed up and moved straight to storage.
How do you get to know about new artists and work that you could add to your collection?
HG: It’s a small circle so a lot of galleries, artists and dealers know you. They’d be telling you about new artists. So in a way, you can’t stop because you’re always exposed and seeing these very interesting artworks. And the beauty of this is the price points of young artists. With a price range of US$10,000 to US$20,000, it’s kind of affordable. That’s how we started with the collection. And now that we’ve formed one up, we want to keep adding to it.
So, how many pieces do you have in your collection?
HG: In the hundreds. I really wouldn’t know, although we did discuss the possibility of creating a catalogue.
How would you describe the pieces in your collection?
HG: I think it’s very abstract. I think the collection grew from street art to abstract and very slowly, figurative. If we were to pin-point our interest at the moment, it’s in colour field paintings now. We’re also getting more into figurative paintings, like the Miaz Brothers piece here, which is an image of what one of them, who is short-sighted, sees.
The collection is very global. It had started out based on European and American art. Funnily enough, we didn’t go into collecting Chinese and Indonesian artists, and instead went the other way. It could have been my growing up, and where I had been educated in. But I’m slowly coming back to it.
SA: I think it’s also about the economics of it. It’s diverse because we’d want to think about the favourite pieces we like—from renowned artists, to new artists, to changing focus, like sculpture instead of just paintings and photography. So it’s like a big portfolio. Then, there’s the investment aspect: what it’s worth, what it could be worth.
What kind of homework do you put in before buying an artwork?
HG: We usually trust the gallery owners. It’s a hell of an effort to walk around an art fair like Art Stage. There is a reason why you buy a certain piece. Sometimes it’s the story, sometimes it’s the artist. For example the James Hugonin piece here. He’s an English painter who can only do one piece a year. So in his 20-year career, he’s only got 18 pieces. Even though I don’t know the guy, the gallery had told me that it was a piece that should be in my collection.
But the right thing to do would be to understand the artist’s technique and why he creates his or her artpiece in a certain way. Subsequently, you would have to go and see the painting up close, maybe even see it a few times at different times of the day, and with someone. Never buy a painting to decorate your home, or to match your couch, it should be the other way around. The artist is also the most important person. Whoever the gallery owner is, that’s secondary; he’s just the middleman in the transaction. And when the artist begins talking to you, you’d understand more.
These are the basics. It’s really fine and dandy if you’re buying works that cost below $10,000. But then there’s a difference if you’re buying art that costs significantly more, say 100 grand. There’s the added angle where you wouldn’t want to lose your investment. Your research then goes beyond just knowing the artist and his technique. It goes into the artist’s career; what he/she has done; the price points—have they been controlled, or have they been stirred up by the market. A lot of new young artists today have become million-dollar artists within two years or so. Because of limited supply, and important collectors are buying those works, demand and supply comes into force. And when there’s no supply, people would flock them on auction houses, and the prices would become inflated, which could eventually lead to the price crashing.
SA: For me, I’d love to get to know the artist, and we’d host them whenever they’re in town. I like to humanise the whole aspect of art buying, to know the artists as people and learn more about their families, and if they have children. It’s not just about picking their brains about their work, or their techniques. That’s my womanly touch.
HG: (Jokingly) Now, a lot of the art we can’t buy because we’d need to come to an agreement, or I’d just make the purchase first.
For an artist, how is having his/her artwork feature in a private collection helpful?
HG: A lot of gallery owners want an artist to be in a certain collections. It adds a value to the artist him or herself. Having collected art for such a long time, and not having sold them on auction, our collection becomes important. Especially for an artist whose gallery wants to place him. It’ll either be in a museum or in a private collection.
When the price of some of your art pieces increases, would you consider selling them?
HG: Cashing-in is a vulgar word to use in the art world. If people know that you’ve cashed-in, you’d never be able to get more works. It is such a small little circle, and whatever you do, everyone will know. So take for example the two Amir Nikravan pieces I just go. If within a year, it becomes available, everyone will know. However in four to five years’ time, that’s usually the peak of someone getting big, you could say that you’re looking to upgrade your collection. Then, it’s perfectly normal to sell some older works to make way for some newer works.
SA: You’ve got to let the art mature.
HG: That’s also why when we buy art from an artist, we don’t just buy one piece.
What’s been the best part about this collecting journey?
SA: I like the travel, and getting to meet and know the artist.
HG: Definitely getting to know the artists. But what’s really nice and romantic, is that you are there with the artists as they evolve and grow through their careers. Being with them through every step of their careers is really the most beautiful part. It’s really that personal connection.
This interview was first published in Vol 4 of Gallery & Studio.